Gigi Hadid traveled to Bangladesh last summer to meet with refugee women and children.
To help spread awareness about their plight, Hadid — one of the fashion industry’s highest-paid supermodels — recorded an Instagram live video that she shared with her more than 40 million followers. “I think the most powerful part of meeting the refugees was their willingness and openness to learn how they could better their situation,” says the 23-year-old. “They wanted to have conversations. They wanted to share their stories. They wanted the education and tools to better their lives.”
Hadid’s trip was organized by UNICEF, the nonprofit started in 1946 that provides emergency healthcare, nutrition and education for children in more than 190 countries and territories. According to the organization, UNICEF has helped save the lives of 122 million children between 1990 and 2016. In 2017, it treated 4 million severely malnourished children and funded 2.4 billion vaccinations to prevent life-threatening illnesses.
After Hadid decided she wanted to partner with UNICEF, she met with Caryl Stern, the president and CEO of UNICEF USA. “I never had a specific area or crisis in mind,” Hadid says. “I wanted UNICEF to send me wherever they needed.”
Stern was impressed with Hadid’s willingness to use her celebrity to shine a spotlight on those in need. “I think she truly has a desire to do something about making our world better,” Stern says. “She came in talking about the fact that every child should have a childhood. She had done her homework and was attracted to UNICEF because of our impeccable record.”
Hadid went to Bangladesh on the one-year anniversary of the Rohingya people being forced to leave their homes to avoid religious persecution by the Myanmar army. She sat in a circle with women and children, listening to how they had kept themselves safe from violence. And she chronicled her observations at the Jamtoli refugee camp by taking selfies, generating international press coverage with every step she took.
Hadid knew that social media would be an important tool in telling the story of the resilient people that she met. “Within a camp, I’m no one,” Hadid says. “I’m there to share a smile. I’m there to share a moment with someone. When I would leave and get in a car, all I wanted to do was take everything I soaked in my brain and put it into my phone so I could get that information to the world. I wanted people to experience it with me.”
She recently demonstrated her activist side in other ways. In 2017, Hadid marched with her younger sister, Bella, in New York to show her opposition to Donald Trump’s proposed Muslim travel ban. She said it was important that she participate “because of my parents.” Her father (real estate developer Mohamed Hadid) and mother (model Yolanda Hadid) both immigrated to the United States.
“I saw two people that came from nothing and were given the opportunity to come to this country and be great,” Hadid says. “This country was built off immigrants. It’s great because of immigrants. I think that the march was so special to me because New York is such a melting pot of so many worlds in one. That’s what America should be, to me. It should be a place that’s shared with whoever wants to explore and learn and grow.”